Pumpkin – calabaza – is the name of a plant that refers to certain cultivars of squash, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin. They are deep yellow to orange and come from the same family as the cucumber and melon. The thick shell contains the seeds and pulp. Pumpkins, like other squash, are native to North America and Pumpkin Pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals. Pumpkins are also frequently carved as decorations around Halloween on 31st October.
Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in early July, but they may suffer if there is a lack of water or cold temperatures. Pumpkins are, however, quite hardy and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines. The plants produce both a male and female flower and honey bees usually play a significant role in fertilization. The leaves are prickly and the flowers are bright yellow. It is the flowers that develop into Pumpkins, which can be different shapes and sizes. When harvested, Pumpkins can be stored in a cool dry place for a few weeks.
Most parts of the Pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves and even the flowers. When ripe, the Pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted and can be eaten mashed, puréed and added to soups. Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as squash or zucchini.
The Pumpkin is used in many cuisines such as those in South Asia and the seeds are often roasted and eaten as a snack. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are small, flat, green, edible seeds which can be eaten raw. Most pumpkin seeds are covered by a white husk.
Pumpkin seed oil is a thick green-red oil that is produced from roasted Pumpkin seeds. When used for cooking or as a salad dressing, the oil is generally mixed with other oils because of its robust flavour. Used in cooking in Central and Eastern Europe, it is considered a delicacy in traditional local cuisines such as Pumpkin soup, potato salad or even vanilla ice cream. Pumpkin seed oil contains fatty acids, such as oleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
Canned Pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that are experiencing certain digestive ailments as the high fibre content helps to aid digestion. Raw Pumpkin can be fed to poultry as a supplement to regular feed during the winter, to help maintain egg production.
There is a strong connection in folklore and popular culture between Pumpkins and the supernatural and they feature in many fictional tales such as Cinderella, Peanuts and Harry Potter.
The seeds and leaves of the Pumpkin have various medical uses such as ridding the body of internal parasites, acting as a laxative, decreasing inflammation of the prostate gland and acting as a diuretic.